Thinking things through: Your story and the change you bring with you

My online presence has been rather erratic as I’ve been having difficulties getting online. I waffled quite a bit about posting anything as it takes time to write a post and then it takes time to wait for connection to stabilize enough for me to publish the post. But what the heck. I’m here and I have time.

Thinking things through has helped me a lot, not only on the decolonization journey, but it’s also helped me to come to a deeper and better understanding of what’s needed if we are to create an environment that’s conducive to diversity. The question isn’t just a matter of getting people in the door, but what I’m concerned about is how to continue to nurture and support these writers so they don’t burn out, don’t feel isolated, don’t feel that they are a voice shouting in the wild that no one listens to. Nothing is more hurtful to the vulnerable spirit than to feel like you’re shouting into a vacuum.

It’s easy for me to say to a writer working in solitude that I hear their voice, but I think the writer needs much more than this. The writer needs to know that there is room for their work. I am of the belief that where you publish and how you publish all depends on what you want to achieve with what you write. If you want to become rich on writing, er…I think you may have chosen the wrong field. If you want recognition…again…er…wrong field. But if you want to write because you have this passion in you and you are bubbling over with things that you want to say to the world, there is no limit to what you can do and to who you can reach. Yes, believe me. There is no limit.

The point of diversity work is to make space so diverse voices can be heard. Not just one, not just two, but a variety of and a multiplicity of voices. I don’t believe there is one authoritative voice. There’s none. We all have very different stories and we all tell them very differently. I said this to a bunch of friends one time, it’s not a question of who rises the fastest or who shines the brightest–the thing is, we all rise at the kind of speed that we need to rise. We all shine as we were meant to shine. It’s not a competition and the awards are not the end goal. Someone once said that we change the world one story at a time. I think this is true. The story you bring with you is a story that will touch and change those in your sphere of influence. The question is: what kind of story do you bring with you? What kind of change are you bringing?

This may sound a little bit floaty, but I did want to share a dream that I had last night. It’s a dream that I believe speaks to the feeling that we all feel at one point or another. In my dream, I saw a group of women who had been cast out to sea in a little boat. They had been sailing and looking for land for quite sometime. Each time they sighted land, they would cheer and rejoice only to be devastated when they discovered that it was nothing more than an illusion. At the moment when they were about to give up, they saw an island in the distance. They looked at the island and they didn’t want to believe that it was real. They’d seen too many illusions and had been disappointed too many times. It wasn’t until their boat drew closer and closer to the island that they realized it was no dream. There before them was a beautiful stretch of beach and beyond that foliage. It was a vibrant country filled with color and life. It was a resting place.

I’m sharing this dream for no reason other than I felt that it was a good time to share it. I think that we all long for a paradise and we all long for a place where we can rest our heads. Don’t give up, it’s not yet the end of the journey.

Thinking things through: lessons learned on the journey

Yesterday, I joined the chairman of the board of the org I work for at an event hosted by Stichting ZAMI. I had been cloistered in the house for quite a while and have been finding it difficult to leave the safety of my four walls, so she had to practically force me to get a ticket and go with her. Well, she didn’t drag me out of the house, but an older Filipina woman who is like family can be forceful in ways that don’t require any physical exertion.

In the end, I was glad that I went along with her because not only did I get to meet twitter buddy and all around awesome woman, Nancy Jouwe, but I also got to meet a whole bunch of awesome women. The conversations were positive and uplifting and listening to the speeches, the panel discussion and just engaging in conversation with these women was so inspiring and heartwarming that I came home feeling energized and strengthened and also more able to face the ugly truths about my own self.

I was most moved by Fatima Elatik‘s closing speech where she told us about her own experiences in the political arena. She reminded us, that facing the truth about ourselves, acknowledging our own weaknesses and embracing those weaknesses make us stronger. I had been feeling very badly about my lack of insight and about the fact that I’d allowed myself to ignore and break my own principles in certain matters and I had been beating down on myself a lot, but Fatima said: What else can you do? You just have to acknowledge that you have weaknesses. You’re not perfect. You’re only human. You fail. The important thing is to realize that the fails you did were things from yesterday and then you have to move on. You have to understand that the work you’re doing and the work you’ve undertaken to do is more important than the fact that people are talking about you and not everyone likes you.

I’m still digesting and processing everything I’ve heard and a lot of it jives with the readings I’ve done on the babaylan and the babaylan spirit. One of the women shared the UBUNTU philosophy which I really want to look more into. I believe that the way forward is not by shutting out people. I believe that the way forward is in working together. If we are to reach that better place of being, we all need to work together and move forward together

Looking at the way the system works ( particularly in publishing ), I don’t believe that gatekeepers are there to keep out diverse works or that gatekeepers aren’t interested in diverse work. One speaker said that it was to us to figure out our position in relation to the system. Gatekeepers don’t know how to do diversity work, but we who know how to do the work need to keep doing our work. We need to keep raising our voices on the need for diversity, but (and in particularly this is for PoC and non-western folks) we need to strategize in order for the system to work for us.

So, how do we do that? We do that by creating work that cannot be ignored. What are the things that we carry with us that will show the industry that they are the ones who need us? Instead of begging for scraps, we need to stand firm and take control of ourselves and of our work. We show them what we can contribute and how we can contribute towards building a system that is truly diverse and inclusive.

This is our work. Publishing our work brings something to the publishing industry that it didn’t have before. Diversity brings color and life to the book industry. Diverse work enriches readers because through reading about places and cultures that they don’t have access to, readers learn to be more understanding. Books teach us many things. They tell us stories that help us empathize with people from places we’ve never been to. Hopefully they teach us to be more mindful of each other and more understanding of the fact that despite our best intentions, we are all still human and we need each other on this journey.

More than ever, I’m convinced that we don’t need to adjust or apologize for the stories we tell or for how we tell them. These are narratives that the world needs. We tell them our way because no one has heard them told the way we tell those stories. Publishing needs us more than we need them and the way I see it, it’s up to us to make ourselves visible and show publishing that they just can’t go on without the presence of a diverse list of writers coming from different cultures and different places around the world.

Keep sending those stories out and keep writing them. You can do it.

What will you leave behind?

I’ve been so behind on many things and I still want to write a report on the conventions that I attended. The second installment of the Movements column on Translations, Mother Tongue and Acts of Resistance has been published over at Strange Horizons and if you haven’t read it yet, do take the time to check it out.

I love how the conversations around translation and the conversations around use of language tie in with the vision for a more inclusive and diverse science fiction–with a vision of the sky that is so wide and broad that all of us fit into it.

2014 has been a really hard year on the SF community. We’ve lost a number of brilliant minds too soon and it fills me with sorrow to think of the conversations and the stories that are now taken away from us. There is a huge gap where these beloved writers have been and I wonder–who will come to fill in the gap and will those who fill in the gap be as generous and big hearted as those who left it behind?

While I didn’t know most of these writers, I knew them through their work and through the thoughtfulness of the work. I am thankful for the memorials that give me more insight into the spirit of these writers. Not only does it make me understand them better, it makes me also appreciate them more.

I think of the generosity and warmth that I have always received from the science fiction community and while we have our moments, I continue to be hopeful and to believe in the future. I find myself thinking of how no matter what awards or accolades we may gain in life, what matters is the memory that we leave behind. What kind of memories will people have of us? What relationships have we nurtured and built up? How have we given back or given forward?

A few days ago, I posted this status update on facebook: “Fully engaging in war against evil and malice, while fully engaging in healing and protecting the vulnerable spirit. This is what it means to me to be someone living fully in the spirit of my culture. And always, always to see and to acknowledge the other person as being human, to embrace them in their humanity and to love them nevertheless. This is how we upset the status quo, this is how we reject systems that seek to dehumanize and devalue us and the work that we do.”

I’ll elaborate on this more in a future blogpost, but for now, I wanted to leave this here as a reminder.

*Part one of the column on translations is here.

Loncon 3 Schedule

I’m a bit late with posting my schedule, but if you want to see me on panels at Worldcon, my schedule looks like this:

Friday, August 15
1:30pm
 
Content and Form: Writing SF/F in non-Western Modes
Capital Suite 8 (Level 3), 1:30pm – 3pm

Sofia Samatar recently suggested that SF genre writers and readers have “a tendency to focus on content rather than form”, even or especially when engaging with marginalised perspectives. Does our genre inevitably tend towards the form and structure of western, English-language stories, regardless of what cultural tradition(s) are reflected in the content? How can a non-western or non-Anglophone writer engage with science fiction and fantasy while also operating outside of the conventions of western-style storytelling? Is it possible for western writers to engage with non-western traditions in an authentic way and produce a story that a wider audience will recognize as science fiction or fantasy? What are some of the different forms offered by non-western cultures that need to be told?

4:30pm
 
Imagining Fantasy Lands: The Status Quo Does Not Need Worldbuilding
Capital Suite 11 (Level 3), 4:30pm – 6pm

Fantasy world-building sometimes comes under fire for its pedantic attention to detail at the expense of pacing or prose style. Do descriptive passages clog up the narrative needlessly, when reader imagination should be filling in the gaps? Where does that leave the landscapes and cultures that are less well represented in the Western genre: can world-building be a tool in subverting reader expectations that would otherwise default to pseudo-medieval Euro-esque? If fantasy is about defamiliarising the familiar, how important is material culture – buildings, furnishings, tools, the organisation of social and commercial space – in creating a fantasy world?

8pm
 
Translation-Wish, Translation-Obstacles
Capital Suite 6 (Level 3), 8pm – 9pm

Many of us have read work in our own languages that we would love to propose to Anglophone publishers.  But how to fund a rough translation of such work?  The Interstitial Arts Foundation is looking to create a new initiative to bring translators together with national and international funders to create a way to make something happen!

Saturday, August 16
1:30pm
 
The World at Worldcon: SF/F in South and South-East Asia
London Suite 2 (Level 0), 1:30pm – 3pm

South and South-East Asia include a huge span of nations, cultures and languages, so does it make any sense to talk of “Asian SF”? What are the traditions and touchstones of fantastical storytelling in South and South-East Asia? What is the state of genre there, and how have shared myths and a joint heritage of colonialism influenced it? A panel of writers and critics from India, Pakistan, Malaysia and The Philippines compare notes.

10pm
 
Reading: Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
Capital Suite 13 (Level 3), 10pm – 10:30pm
Sunday, August 17
12pm
 
Diversity Within Young Adult Science Fiction
Capital Suite 2 (Level 3), 12pm – 1:30pm

From Earthsea to Noughts and Crosses, The Summer Prince to Akata Witch, children and teens need to see books with characters that represent the diverse world they live in, whether they are dystopian romance or fantasy adventure. Organisations like We Need Diverse Books are helping to promote diversity in children’s literature, but what actions can we take – as readers, writers, publishers, and book-buyers – to help them in their goals? And who are the great authors of the past few years we should be catching up on?

Please do feel free to say hi if you see me. :)

On Being Human: An offering of thanks

It is August and I find it incredible to find myself here on this page, able to write without feeling the edge of anxiety.

Winter months are particularly hard on me and this year, I found myself struggling to keep depression at bay. I had recently lost two dear friends to cancer, and another loved one was fighting it. We were out of a job, I was missing home, and I found myself in a state where I had to constantly wrestle with my body. Throughout the years, I’ve learned to live with bouts of chronic pain, but this year for some reason, the pain escalated to the point where I could sometimes not write because of it.

The thing is, I did not want to give up. I still wanted to finish writing my novel. I still wanted to meet my deadlines and I did not want to surrender and admit I needed medication.

I kept reminding myself that I’d won through this before without taking meds. Sure, it took a good chunk of a year, but still I had done it. I’ll admit, I was also terrified of the build up phase when things sometimes get worst before they get better.

I’ve talked about depression with friends as this feeling of moving through a tunnel. Every little thing becomes too much and in order to survive I have to focus my energy on things that I feel are of the utmost importance. To appear normal and functional even when things are falling apart is an art I mastered the first time I wrestled with depression.

Regardless of my will, the well from which I drew energy was exhausted.

I think that it’s in these moments of weakness, of being completely weak and human that we learn to fully appreciate our companions on the journey. I am emerging from the build-up phase and inside me I feel again that deep well of energy from which I draw when I am in need of it. I realize that I would not be writing this if not for the kadkadua who wrote me and chatted with me and reminded me that seeking help is not failure.

I’ve received messages from the most unexpected places and I feel completely humbled. I am reminded that connections are made when we open our hearts to others. I am thankful for the community, for the circle of support, and for those who have opened their hearts, welcomed me,  and encouraged me just by being. Maraming Salamat.

Thinking things through: kadkadua

In one of my brief forays into twitter yesterday, Corey Alexander tweeted out a link called: A Colonized Ally Meets a Decolonized Ally: This is what they learn.

I found myself reflecting on the word ally and what that word means. As I think on it, I find myself more and more disinclined to use the word ally. I don’t doubt that there are people who will tell me that I just don’t understand because English, but I want to think in terms that are rooted more in my own culture. I want to look deeper and find the words that are more meaningful to me and which I can use to refer to companions in my journey.

In recent work, I have used the word kadkadua, which is the Ilocano word for comrade and while the word comrade is a loaded word for some, I find myself thinking that it is a more human word than ally.

Where allyship is connected to causes, comradeship (in the sense of kadkadua) means companionship. In the literal translations for comrade, we see the words mate and friend connected, and to me this makes a world of difference.

In fact, if I think of what kadkadua means to me, it means someone who I consider to be the same as myself. We are bonded together not just because we share a cause but because there is mutual respect, understanding and love.

In this age where social media often functions like a podium, it’s easy to forget that there are people behind names. It’s true that the digital age has brought us much in terms of advantage, but it has also contributed to a certain mindset that does not allow for mistakes to be made, that does not allow for humanity, that does not allow for weakness.

To be a true comrade means that when you fall, I will lift you up. When you fail, I will still see you as human. When you are weak, I want to be your support.

As I read the works of indigenous writers, as I study the words of the babaylan, I find myself thinking of the harm inflicted not only on the colonized but also on the colonizer.

We damage the self when we rob the other of humanity. When we narrow down our speech to causes and forget the human element, we also wound our inner self. In justifying those wounds, we become callous and hard and bitter and when we do so we lose our ability to trust and to have faith and to hope for a future.

I acknowledge that I too have spoken out in anger, in rage and frustration. That I have also had moments where I forgot that the person on the other end is human. That the other person has a heart that can be wounded. I can only apologize for not being mindful and hope to be more mindful in the future.

A tribute

I was a little girl when my father first told me about Tita Inday. Not only was a she a linguistics professor at a big university abroad, but she had also created a word.

I don’t recall now what the word was, my father probably does, but what captured my imagination was the idea that someone could bring into being a word that had not previously existed. To my child self, this idea was completely magical and mind-boggling.
I met Tita Inday for the first time when I was in highschool. She was, a tiny woman—tinier than my highschool self. She was full of light and energy, overflowing with brilliance.

At a time in my life when I was filled with complete doubt as to whether there was even any point in writing, my aunt reminded me that bringing the work into being is the point. That publication doesn’t always happen, that things will never be easy because you are a Filipino writing in this language not your own, but you still have to persevere.

I write about her as I think about translations and language, about the mother tongue, about worlds and words that come into being because she would have loved this kind of conversation where we talk about what’s possible. What can we do with language? How far can we push words? What are the politics that lie behind the use of language?

I remember visiting with my aunt at her home in Calgary, this was right after Clarion West. She asked me questions about my work and shared her own work with me as well.

Through the years, we kept in touch, sometimes through email, sometimes through phone conversations and then through the occasional message sent through my father.The last message I sent her contained a compilation of essays I’d written in the past year and a half.

Tita Inday passed away on the 26th of July. My father said, she called while he was out. She was having problems with her heart.

It’s difficult to write about such losses. As if by writing about them, they become more real. But I wanted to pay tribute to her in this space. I think of the saying “it’s in the blood” and I can’t help but acknowledge that even though I am no linguist, this fascination with words…this engagement with language…it also comes from that moment when my father said: Your aunt invented a word.